Parenting may be one of the most rewarding jobs on earth, but it is also one of the most difficult. I am the mother of three sons. My youngest, Joel (32), has autism along with an anxiety disorder and severe kyphosis of the spine. Parenting a child with a disability is especially demanding, requiring surpluses of energy, patience and perseverance beyond, at times, what seems humanly possible. As Joel’s mom, I've needed God’s supernatural power over the years to summon up that kind of energy on a daily basis. I’ve come up with what I call “Fuel for the Journey”—concrete ways to make sure my gas tank is filled, every day, so that I can go the extra mile it takes to be the best mom possible for Joel.
- Read the Scriptures on a daily basis. Soak in how wide and high and deep God’s love is for you and for your child. Lectio Divina is my very favorite way of soaking in God's word, for me, today.
- Ask yourself what feeds your spirit. Reading an inspirational book? Listening to Christian or classical music? Worship? Creating art? Writing? Do it!
- Schedule time for yourself each week—a cup of coffee with a friend, a movie, a walk around the neighborhood with a friend or by yourself—whatever energizes you. For me, it's 30 minutes at my local library! Again, make time to do it!
- Schedule date nights for you and your spouse on a regular basis, even if that means staying home and fixing a romantic dinner by candlelight after the kids go to bed. One weekend away, together, once a year did wonders for my marriage. Find a friend or family member to trade childcare if necessary. Re-fuel your marriage!
- Pamper yourself for at least five minutes every day—lock the bathroom door and smooth on your favorite lotion, listen to your favorite song on your phone, or read a short article from your favorite magazine. My go-to for a relaxing moment? Taking a stroll around the yard, listening to the birds.
- Keep a journal—you’ll be amazed when you read back over the year how God is working in your life, and how much you have grown and matured.
- Write down God-sightings in your journal—once you start looking for God in your daily life, you’ll be amazed at how often God shows up.
- Express gratitude in your journal—for even the smallest things.
- Get out in nature. It’s impossible not to have faith and hope when you’re surrounded by God’s glorious creation. Chase a sunset. Look for rainbows. Lie down in the grass and watch the clouds. Count the stars.
- Parents of children with disabilities grieve. Find ways to externalize that grief:
- Write about it in your journal
- Share it with a friend
- Speak it to a counselor or a pastor
- Pray out loud
- Yell at God if you have to—believe it or not, He can take it! (Don’t believe it? Read the Psalms!)
- Pray throughout the day—when you wake up, when you’re doing the dishes, when you’re falling asleep. Your prayers don’t have to be long, theological, or complicated. As Ann Lamott writes in her inimitable style, the three essential prayers are Help, Thanks, Wow.
- Learn contemplative prayer. We tend to forget prayer is a two-way street. Contemplative prayer helps us learn to quiet our minds so we can listen to God. There are many books available on contemplative prayer and Christian meditation. My favorite app is "Centering Prayer"
- Practice mindfulness—this is a gift our children with autism teach us on a daily basis—how to block out all the external stimuli and simply “be” in the present moment. The classic book, The Practice of the Presence of God, by Brother Lawrence, is a wonderful resource.
For some other ideas on fueling up, check out my newest book, The Spiritual Art of Raising Children with Disabilities